MotoMojo: Safety Lighting

Oct 21, 2015 View Comments by

MotoMojo: Safety LightingIncreasing Your Visibility on the Road –

These days it seems like nearly every driver on the road is distracted by something. Besides cell phones, beverages, and fast food, I’ve seen drivers using laptops, watching videos, reading newspapers and books, putting on makeup, tweezing eyebrows, curling eyelashes, and playing musical instruments! It’s a wonder they all don’t crash!

A high percentage of serious motorcycle accidents involve drivers violating a rider’s right of way. Often, they turn left across the path of the oncoming bike or pull out of a side street in front of the bike. Afterward, drivers often claim “I never saw the motorcycle” or “It came out of nowhere.” To protect ourselves, we motorcyclists need to take advantage of anything that makes us more conspicuous to these inattentive “part-time” drivers.

The GearBrake kit also comes with plug-and-play connectors for most bikes.

The GearBrake kit also comes with plug-and-play connectors for most bikes.

Headlight Modulators
One item that may help prevent this type of accident is a headlight modulator. By rapidly pulsing the bike’s headlamp, it quickly draws attention to one’s oncoming bike, making it more noticeable from a considerable distance. Although simply having headlights on during the day helps increase a motorcycle’s presence, the rapid pulsing of a modulated light is much more eye-catching.

According to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108 (49 CFR Part 571.108 S7.9.4), headlight modulators which meet the standards are legal on motorcycles in all 50 states. Federal standards require headlight modulators to pulse the headlamp at 240 cycles per minute (four cycles per second), plus or minus 40. Headlamps must operate at maximum power for 50 to 70 percent of each cycle; the lowest intensity at any point must not be less than 17 percent of the maximum intensity. The DOT also requires all headlight modulators to have fail-safe circuitry, which defaults to steady on if the circuit fails. Therefore, a rider won’t be left with an inoperative headlamp if the modulator quits. The law also requires a daylight sensor so, at sundown, the headlamp will automatically stop modulating. If two bulbs pulse, by law, they must do so at the same time; they cannot alternate as an emergency vehicle’s do. Title 49 USC 30103 (b1) of the U.S. code also forbids states from outlawing any system which meets the FMVSS 108 standards. Canadian regulations are similar.

GearBrake modulators are rated for up to 10 amps of current.

GearBrake modulators are rated for up to 10 amps of current.

Headlight modulators are fairly small, and most kits control only high beam current. Choices range from “plug-and-play” units with prewired factory connectors to ones requiring a bit of simple wiring. Before purchasing a modulator kit, riders need to know what type headlight bulb they have; it’s often on the bulb’s base or listed in the owner’s manual. Standard halogen bulbs can be used with modulators, but LED and HID systems may not be compatible. Verify with the seller that the kit meets federal standards, it will work with the make and model and type of bulb, and that the watt rating can handle the headlight’s power draw. This is especially important if a higher-power bulb is installed. Determine how much space there is behind the headlight for a module and where the daylight sensor will mount.

I installed a headlight modulator kit (H45003) from Kriss Motorcycle Products, which is DOT compliant. On my Harley Road King, the small unit fits easily inside the headlight housing. Installation is plug-and-play, only a screwdriver is needed to remove the bulb. Be sure to follow the included instructions for wiring colors.

The daylight sensor is mounted outside the headlight housing with a zip tie, and the headlight is reinstalled. Installation took less than 30 minutes. If a plug-and-play kit is not available for a specific bike, don’t worry, there are only a few wires to connect between the headlamp and wiring harness.

My Road King came with amber rear turn signals, which were replaced with red ones for us as brake/turn signals.

My Road King came with amber rear turn signals, which were replaced with red ones for us as brake/turn signals.

Rear Lighting
Most stock motorcycles don’t have a lot of rear lighting to boost conspicuity. Yes, they meet minimum government standards, but a single tail light or low-mounted turn signal can get lost in a sea of lights on a crowded highway. Extra tail (running) lights can be added to make a bike more visible when just cruising down the road. There are also flasher modules, which blink the brake light rapidly several times when the brakes are applied. Some units have selectable flash patterns that vary rate and number of flashes upon brake application.

When one slows down by using only engine braking, rolling off the throttle and/or downshifting, the stock brake light does not come on. GearBrake offers a Smart Brake Light Module that detects when a rider slows for any reason, using an accelerometer. The module signals to following drivers that a rider is slowing (even without using the brakes). The standard setting is 0.2G of deceleration, but it’s adjustable. GearBrake automatically makes a two-second pulsing alert and then steadily illuminates the brake light until the brake is released, grabbing the attention of following vehicles to let them know a rider is slowing down. Plug-and-play installation kits, using original-equipment-type connectors, are available for most motorcycle models.

Combination Turn, Brake, and Tail Lights
Another way of further improving conspicuity is to convert the rear turn signals to combination turn, brake, and tail lights. There are a number of products available from the aftermarket and OEMs. Most kits will work if a bike has conventional halogen bulbs. If a bike has a CAN-BUS, LEDs, a security system, cruise control, or other related accessories, verify with product sellers their kits will work or if extra parts are needed.

Some products allow single-filament light bulbs in the rear turn signals to also function as brake and running lights, and flash the brake lights. I installed a product called “The Flasher” from CycleVisions, which converts the rear turn signals on my Harley-Davidson touring model to do all three functions. The plug-and-play kit is mounted under the seat using plugs matching the originals. Installation took under 15 minutes with no splicing or cutting. Simply unplug the original plug going to the rear lights, plug the module inline with the same plugs, and tape the module in place.

The original combination (tail and brake light) flashes in unison with the converted turn signal lights to create a powerful visual indication that’s hard to ignore. Most states require tail lights to be red. Since the rear turn signals also act as extra tail lights now, I replaced their amber lenses with red ones, which are readily available from H-D dealers or aftermarket. Riders can either replace amber lenses with red ones or, if they are not available, replace the turn signals.

By Ken Freund

Sources
CycleVisions, www.cyclevisions.com
DemonLite, www.demonlite.com
GearBrake, www.gearbrake.com
Kriss Motorcycle Products, www.kriss.com

 

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